Every year we keep a solemnity in honor of the founders of the church in Rome. Every five or six years, this feast day falls on a Sunday. This year, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul not only falls on Sunday, it falls on a Sunday during… Well, during two things.
1. Each summer now for three summers, we have prayed and fasted for two weeks, a fortnight. For freedom of religion in America.
The ancient Romans believed supernatural powers upheld their vast empire. The emperor encouraged everyone to believe that he was divine as well as human. And it annoyed him immensely when events occurred that made him look weak in the supernatural department. Things like military defeats. Or like the city of Rome burning down in a massive fire. How to explain such cruel luck when a divine emperor ruled? Well, it must have happened because the Christians refused to offer the customary pagan sacrifices.
Believe it or not, by the happy co-incidence of the Lectionary cycles, we read the exact same gospel reading at Holy Mass today and a week from Sunday. So I can give you a homily on it then.
Let’s just focus for one tiny moment on these words of Scripture. The holy prophet addresses us with an exhortation to consider reality realistically:
It was not because you are the largest of all nations
that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you,
for you are really the smallest of all nations. (Deuteronomy 7:7)
“The smallest of all nations.” Now, not to get persnickety with the Bible or anything, but statistics show us that our Holy Mother Church actually has more members than many nations have in their populations. The Catholic Church has more people than the Netherlands and Belgium put together, to be sure.
But that’s not really the point. The prophet means something else by infallibly declaring to the Church that we are the smallest of all nations.
Does He love us for our good looks? For our many achievements and splendid exploits, frequently chronicled on tv? Does He look at how well we cook, or how well we drive, or how well we play cards, or tennis—did He see all that, from heaven, and then fall in love with us, because we are so charming and wonderful?
Did He see us excelling in virtue, making Hercules of old look like a piker, while we tear up Insanity workouts daily, and shimmer with perfect honesty and generosity and prudence and a sensible diet—did He see all this from His heavenly perch, and then say to Himself, ‘Well, gosh! What a lovable group of people these human people are, how can I help Myself but love them?’
Well, no. Negative. That’s not how it happened.
Not being great—being pathetic little lumps of clay that sometimes can’t even manage to tie our own shoelaces properly, who often turn left when all the signs clearly read, ‘Danger ahead! Turn right immediately’—being small-brained, small-hearted, whiny, petulant, little nincompoops—being all this and less, we receive the free and all-conquering love of God.
He loves the morally, spiritually, and psychologically bankrupt. And then He makes us beautiful and interesting and worthwhile. He loves the small into greatness. That’s the way He is.
The image of King Josiah discovering the Law of God, and repenting on behalf of the whole nation for Israel’s infidelity to the law–this picture consoles us with hope and promise during our fortnight of prayer and fasting for religious freedom.
We pray for peace and harmony between our lives as Christians dedicated to obeying God in everything, and our lives as citizens of our beloved country.
We have to strive more and more for genuine unity and integrity of purpose, doing our duty as ctizens by following our Lord Jesus as faithful disciples.
May God give our nation the kind of peace that He gave to Israel under the reign of King Josiah: The peace that comes from humble submission to God’s laws.
Today, in honor of St. John the Baptist’s birth, we present: Father Versace’s Fortnight-for-Freedom jeremiad.
My spiritual life, so far as it goes, consists in: trying to do my duty as a parish priest (which includes a fair amount of praying), visiting the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible, spending a day in total solitude whenever I can, and spiritual reading and mental prayer early each morning.
I hope and pray that this lame little spiritual life will suffice to prepare me adequately to go to prison, when the time comes. Because it seems to me that the question is not whether I will have to spend time in jail. The question is: For which of the two possible reasons will I actually wind up getting arrested, in the end?
Lately, in the early hours, I have been reading St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, one chapter per day. Chapter 83 of Book IV goes a long way towards helping us understand our position in the Fortnight for Freedom. Book IV covers salvation. In the latter part of the book, St. Thomas explains life after the general resurrection.
Please God we find ourselves among the saved, rather than the damned, we will live in a state of universal brotherhood, perfectly united with God. There will be no more of a lot of things. One of the the things there will be no more of: sex.
Let’s consider universal brotherhood first.
On the news the other day, I heard a “border-security” pundit say, “The officials of this administration, in their heart of hearts, don’t believe that we have a right to keep people out of this country. People who are not murderers or drug-dealers, who just want a job.”
Then an administration official they had on the show immediately denied it. But I wanted to say to the first guy: You got it, brother! Whether or not the administration officials believe it is a secondary issue. The primary thing is: It’s true. No human authority possesses the right to keep peaceful, law-abiding migrants from moving from one place on God’s earth to another, if such be their will.
The fact that the U.S. tries to impede perfectly legitimate migration indicates a major lapse in our Christian perspective on things. It calls into question whether we, as a nation, can really claim to have a Christian perspective on things.
When people migrate into his land, a Christian does not wonder whether or not the migrants have a good reason for migrating. The Christian assumes, as a decent human being, that they must have a good reason. Why would a law-abiding person leave his or her homeland? Must have been forced by extreme hardship and/or grave danger.
So the Christian thinks, What can I do to help?
The idea that a migrant doesn’t belong here? Again, this is something that just does not occur to a Christian mind. This land belongs to God, not the Dept. of Homeland Security.
Of course, God gives us the duty of maintaining law and order. But migrants in search of a stable and peaceful life do not disturb law and order. To the contrary, they have talent and can make contributions that we need in order to have the vigorous society that we want to have.
So: What kind of trouble will we find ourselves in, brothers and sisters in the Lord, because we cannot and do not accept one of the pretensions to authority that the federal government fondles for itself? What kind of trouble will we find ourselves in because we say that the border-control juggernaut operates like an un-Christian, inhumane racket?
Forgive me. I sat in the waiting room at the detention center in Farmville last Tuesday evening, while they were bringing Enrique from the dining hall to the visitors’ area. I saw a shift-change take place. Well-meaning young officers going home, more well-meaning young officers coming on duty. I do not criticize them; they need a good job, just like everyone else.
But: Why? Why does this barbed-wire-fenced compound, holding several hundred good, hard-working people–keeping them away from their families and their jobs–why does it exist? I don’t mean to be cynical. But the border-control business is a racket.
Maybe, though, I will wind up in jail for reason #2.
In chapter 83 of Book II of Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas carefully considers whether we will have sex with each other after the general resurrection at the end of time. We will no longer need to keep the human race going by procreation, because we will no longer die. Ergo, no good reason for sex.
What about having sex just for the pleasure of it? St. Thomas replies:
To indulge in the pleasure of sex without a good reason for having sex reduces a human being to the level of animals. God made sex pleasurable, just like He made eating pleasurable, in order to encourage us to do it, when a good reason presents itself. But when there is no good reason to have sex, it is beneath the dignity of man to indulge just for the sake of fleshly pleasure.
Of course, St. Thomas has the authority of the Lord Jesus Himself behind him here. In the kingdom of heaven, saith the Lord, they will not marry; they will be like angels.
“You’re interested in having children together? Great,” say I, the priest. “Come in to my office and we’ll work on preparing you to get married!” Or: “Ok, not intending to have children? No problem. Live a beautiful single life, like so many great saints have done!”
I have no problem with “gay” people, per se; I have no problem with teenagers who claim to be in love; I have no problem with successful professionals who honestly believe the Lord has something other than baby-making in mind for them, at least for the moment. Great.
But no one in any of these situations has a legitimate reason for taking their pants off with anyone else in the same room. All of us have more important, more constructive, and more dignified things to do than engaging in fruitless sex.
From one perspective, ‘gay marriage’ and the HHS contraceptive mandate appear to present separate political problems for the Church in the United States. But it seems to me that these problems stem from the same fundamental Christian point-of-view, which St. Thomas outlined.
If someone says, “I want to be married, or do married things, but bearing children isn’t one of them,” then I, the priest, representing the Church as an institution, and as an employer, am like: “Um, no entiendo. How can you possibly imagine that I could do anything for you? Other than encourage you to repent of your sins and try to lead a more reasonable, healthy, and holy life?”
Let’s pray. I don’t particularly want to go to jail. I can’t imagine that any of you do, either.
Let’s pray that everyone will calm down and thereby see things more clearly. Let’s pray that none of us have to go to jail simply because we see life from a Christian point-of-view, which governs all our interactions with other people.
Let’s pray that all of us here on earth will receive the grace to repent of our sins and get to heaven together, where we will live in universal brotherhood, with angel-like chastity, gazing upon the unbounded glory of God.
They asked this perfectly reasonable question after the Lord Jesus had said, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
He will give His flesh that the world may have life, as opposed to death. Without this gift–the Body of Christ–the world languishes in death.
Indeed, taking a sober look around us, we see that death reigns as the inevitable conclusion of all our labors.
We stave off death for a while, by eating plenty of salads and sandwiches and bowls of cereal, etc., and keeping ourselves hydrated. But we can keep death at bay for only so long.
So the Messiah, the Savior, possesses flesh that gives life beyond the grave. The Christ of God gives life. He conquers death in His Body—not just for His own sake, but for all mankind. He gives all mankind His life-saving flesh.
In praying, do not babble like the pagans. (Matthew 6:7)
Do not prattle. Do not prate. Do not babble. Do not vainly repeat. The heavenly Father has infinite patience. But don’t press your luck.
The Greek word in the gospel here—which, apparently, arose from a Hebrew word for vanity—sounds just like what it means. When you pray, do not battalogesete. Logos, of course, means…word. Do not batta the Lord with words. “Babble” seems like the perfect English equivalent, since it has the same onomatopoeia to it.
Do not battalogesete the Lord. Because He knows what we need before we ask Him. He knows what we need much better than we do.
So: Before I ask Him to conform His will to mine, let me pray for the grace humbly to conform my will to His. Before I tell Him what I imagine the earth ought to be like, let me pray that it be more like His unimaginably wonderful heaven.
Before I tell Him what’s supposed to happen tomorrow, let me beg Him for what I need today. Before I tell Him how to change somebody else, let me pray for the grace to change myself for the better.
Now, people accuse us of violating the divine precept against battalogesete-ing the Lord by reciting the Holy Rosary. I, for one, can hardly imagine a more baseless, even ironic, charge.
Our Fathers, punctuated by begging our Lady ten times to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deaths. Does not sound vain to me. Sounds pretty close to exactly what we should say.
So let’s let the experts and geniuses try to come up with some better way to pray. In the meantime, let’s keep praying daily for our bread and begging for mercy and Our Lady’s help as many times a day as we can manage.
Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. (II Kings 2:11)
A dramatic exit, with fiery horses and a fiery chariot.
Elijah had spent his life insisting on the truth, accusing liars and cheaters to their faces, tirelessly serving the God of Abraham and Moses, even when everyone around him tried to forget the Ten Commandments. Certainly his dramatic exit from this world vindicated Elijah in all his efforts. The Lord brought the prophet’s work to a particularly eminent conclusion.
But the ancient Israelites understood Elijah’s ride into heaven in another way, too. They understood it as having something to do, not just with the past, but with the future. The fact that Elijah did not die meant that his relentless zeal, his unswerving insistence on faithfulness to the one, almighty Creator—the meaning of Elijah’s danger-filled life—it was not ending. Elijah’s earthly career came to an end, but his ministry of serving justice and truth was not over.
The Israelites knew that the fiery chariot ride meant that everything the prophet Elijah preached and hoped for would be accomplished and fulfilled. The Messiah would come from the heaven to which Elijah had ridden. Then an age of reconciliation, of peace and communion between Israel and God—the kingdom of God, in other words–would come.
Elijah rode into heaven as a sign that Jesus would come from heaven to us, and that all hearts should await Him vigilantly.
Fresh from Mexico’s moral victory over Brazil this afternoon, I had the blessed opportunity to visit our Enrique this evening, in the detention center on the outskirts of Farmville, Va. The same Farmville where, 149 years ago, Lee’s army repeatedly retreated after losing skirmishes to Federals, landing them in Appomatox.
But I digress. Let it be a testimony to the decency of our nation that:
1. Enrique himself had just watched the better part of the Brazil-Mexico game. 2. He is recovering well from a flu he caught last week, having been helped by a doctor, who has also supplied him with his diabetes medicine. 3. He has lost a few pounds, but no more than he could well have stood to lose anyway. 4. He has a nice tan from the walks he can take around the soccer field every other day. He has indomitable spirits, and no complaints.
His deportation order was stayed last week, a miracle to be attributed to your holy prayers, dear reader. The strategy now is to apply for asylum, on the grounds that his hometown in Jalisco is too violent to live in, owing to drug-running operations there.
Enrique asked me especially to extend his regards and gratitude to everyone who is lovingly praying for him and supporting him. His next step is to await an appointment at which he could appeal for asylum. Please pray that he can get one soon, and that a sympathetic listening ear will greet his request.
More info as it becomes available. We are in halfway-decent shape when it comes to the legal-defense funds, but further appeals for donations may become necessary if things go well, and he gets to the next stage of actually mounting his asylum request before a judge.